The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Memory Almost Forgotten

Youth has the benefit of experiencing a kind of temporal slow-motion. Hoped-for events seem always so distant that when they finally arrive most of the expected enjoyment has already been savored. For a child the anticipation is nearly as wonderful as the reality. As we age, however, time seems to compress causing the future to collide with the present. We hardly have time to look forward to a future event because it has already arrived, or more likely, has joined the rest of our life in a jumble of memories. And the past is indeed a jumble.

This all came to mind yesterday as I approached a local railroad crossing. I've always enjoyed watching trains -- a delight I inherited from my father -- although these days I miss seeing the caboose, that final appendage to every freight train. The caboose, the train's exclamation point, let everyone know the train has passed. And as a child I could always count on a wave from the brakeman as the caboose roared by. But, sadly, technology has now eliminated the caboose, and today's children will suffer, if only mildly, the loss of that wave.

Anyway, as the barrier lowered, the lights flashed, and the warning alarm clanged, I obediently brought my Kia to a stop. I was the one and only car at the crossing and, looking to my left, I could see an oncoming freight train moving along at a good clip. Powered by three engines, the train consisted of 105 cars (I counted). I had even opened the car window so I could fully experience the noise, the smell, the sight of all those freight cars rumbling by as I waited more than patiently. And then it was gone. The barrier lifted and the train joined all those other experiences -- small, large, and in-between -- that make up my past. That train passing in front of me is really no different from the movement of the other events of my life as they pass from future to present to past.

It's unlikely I will actually recall this experience as a unique event that occurred early one February morning in 2018. It will probably merge with dozens of similar experiences joining all those other trains I've watched over the years. But memory is a strange thing, and some experiences, so intense or so meaningful, will always stand out as unique events, never to be forgotten or absorbed into a mass of like incidents. And as I drove through that railroad crossing, I suddenly thought of Henry Wright and said aloud, "Oh, my gosh, I forgot February 6th, the day Henry was killed."

I am ever amazed how the memory of such events is triggered. Why did I think of Henry yesterday morning? I haven't a clue. But as soon as I got home I went directly to a thick book just published by my U. S. Naval Academy class of 1967 as a remembrance of the 50th anniversary of our graduation. It contains biographical sketches of most of my classmates, living and dead. I turned to Henry's entry just to ensure I had the date right. I did. His entry is below. Click on it for a larger image.

Henry Arthur Wright was a 1967 classmate who, along with me and a couple of dozen other classmates, spent four years together in the same company. (The Brigade of Midshipman was divided into 36 companies.) 

Henry was a remarkable young man, a true over-achiever determined to prove, if only to himself, that he had what it takes to do great things. Henry didn't need to prove this to those who knew him, because we were already convinced of his capabilities. The photo below is his USNA yearbook photo.

Henry Arthur Wright
Henry chose to become an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps and at graduation was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Like every new Marine officer, he spent the next few months at The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. On January 5, 1968, just six months after graduation from the Naval Academy, Henry was in Vietnam as a platoon commander. One month later, on February 6, Henry was mortally wounded leading his platoon in relief of a company of Marines near Da Nang. He was the first of our classmates to sacrifice his life in combat. And it truly was a sacrificial act, for his bravery under fire was recognized by the award of a posthumous Bronze Star and, of course, a Purple Heart. Among the youngest members of our USNA class, Henry was just 21 years old at the time of his death. He is indeed "forever young."

We lost too many classmates in the Vietnam conflict. They were all remarkable men, true heroes every one. But to me Henry was special -- not simply because he was the first to lose his life, but because I knew him so well. He was indeed a friend. (Henry's profile on the Virtual Wall: Panel 37#, Line 76)
Marines Near Da Nang
A few months ago, a TV show recalling the Tet Offensive brought Henry to mind and I could hardly believe it had been 50 years since his death. I promised myself that on February 6 of this year, I would remember February 6, 1968 by having a Mass celebrated in Henry's name for the repose of his soul. And then, of course, in the busy-ness and unceasing movement of life, I simply forgot. I will make up for that lapse this week. Fortunately, Henry is now in eternity where time and memory presumably have less meaning. But these are still meaningful to me and to all those who knew this wonderful young man.

Rest in peace, Henry. We will never forget you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Morning of Reflection (Videos)

[Late Note: After watching the videos embedded below, a few folks have contacted me and asked what my comment about "The Godfather" was all about. During one of the talks (I think it was the 2nd talk), a cell phone in the congregation rang with the theme of "The Godfather" movie playing loudly. It wasn't picked up by the microphone I was wearing, so you can't hear it on the video. Anyway, my odd comment was in reference to the phone ringing.]

Our parish's Council of Catholic Women asked me to lead a pre-Lenten Morning of Reflection for the parish on Saturday, February 10. Designed as a kind of introduction to the Lenten season, its theme was "God's Call to the Way of the Disciple."

The CCW was joined by our parish prayer groups in preparing for this day. It was a monumental task and I extend my thanks to all who helped put it all together.

The morning began with morning Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a Scriptural Rosary in the church. We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the parish hall.

After breakfast I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and delivered three talks on discipleship with each talk centered on a particular Gospel passage.

Each talk was followed by a hymn related to the talk's subject. These were sung by our three amazing and very talented music ministers -- The Grace Notes -- Dawn DiNome Wetzel, Becki Pishko, and Jillian O'Neil.  

After the third talk, I conducted Benediction and reposed the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer teams of our Emmanuel Prayer Group were  then available to pray over and with parishioners who brought healing and other needs. It was a wonderful morning and perhaps 500-600 people attended. I only hope that my talks were well-received. 

I discovered later that our A/V folks had recorded the three talks but not the brief homily I preached at morning Mass. I have included the text of the homily below since I intended it as a kind of introduction to the Morning of Reflection. Videos of the three talks follow the homily text. If you really want to watch the videos, understand that each is about 30 minutes long, so you'll have to set aside some serious time. Maybe they'd be good spiritual food for your Lenten meditation...or maybe not. I'll let you decide.

Here's the text of the homily I preached at morning Mass  -- Saturday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time:


Readings: 1 Kgs 12:26-32;13:33-34 • Ps 106 • Mk 8:1-10

Mark's Gospel has often been described as a Passion narrative with a long introduction. And that introduction? Well, it moves right along, doesn't it?

Mark's sort of the Sergeant Joe Friday of the Gospels: "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." (If you're under 60, you might have to ask a more mature friend about Joe Friday.) Anyway, Mark doesn't waste time on what he likely considered extraneous details. He gets right to the point.

He even begins that way, No genealogies for Mark. No infancy narratives. None of John's deep theological insights. No, Mark tells us what it's all about with his opening words:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" [Mk 1:1].
You can almost hear him saying, "That's it, folks, the nitty-gritty - but let me tell you more just so your faith will stay strong."

And as Mark's Gospel progresses we encounter two themes, two threads that weave their way through the Gospel and converge in the Passion narrative of chapters 14 and 15.

One is the story of Jesus, the Son of God, and the suffering Son of Man, a life and ministry that moves inexorably to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection as the very fulfillment of all Scripture [Mk 14:49].

The other thread is the story of the disciples. At first glance it seems to be a remarkable story of the remarkably clueless. Moved by the Spirit, the twelve attach themselves to Jesus with little understanding of His teachings or what His call to discipleship really entails. Some, like Peter, James, and John, have moments of bravado, moments that end up as little more than cowardly bluster. Others remain strangely silent as they struggle to come to terms with their response to this calling.

Interestingly, it seems that the closer a disciple is to Jesus, the less he understands. That, of course, all changes at Pentecost. But don't see their spiritual struggles as a sign of human failure; rather, it's a story of God's success. It's a story of spiritual growth, of gradual formation, a time when the Spirit plants seed after seed in the hearts of these friends and followers of Jesus. Like every seed planted by the Spirit, these sprout and bloom according to His schedule, not ours.

Later this morning we'll look at three events in the Gospels, and see how the Spirit moved those involved as they responded to calls to discipleship. The Spirit can move quickly indeed, or He can lead us to the truth over a lifetime. And it's our response that makes all the difference. We see signs of this in today's Gospel passage.

4,000 people, a huge crowd, have been with Jesus for three days, and have eaten nothing. But we hear no complaints from the crowd, for in their hunger for Truth they have been fed with the Word. They are satisfied.

For them it has been three days of contemplative prayer, for what is contemplative prayer but placing oneself in Jesus' presence and listening, listening to the Word so He can alter one's very being.

It's also a time of fasting. But in his compassion, Jesus knows once He leaves them, their fast will end, and they will return to the world hungry. They will need to be restored so they can carry the Word to their homes, into their everyday lives where they can live from faith.

So Jesus turns to His disciples and simply states a truth:

"They have nothing to eat" [Mk 10:2].

"How can we get bread in the desert?" [Mk 10:4] they ask. He has yet to reveal that He is the Bread of Life, that wherever Jesus is, there is Bread. Yes, Jesus is the Eucharist, a gift He will institute at the Last Supper - the bread, His Body - the wine, His Blood - the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. But as yet they don't know this. Have they so soon forgotten His earlier feeding of the 5,000? Miracle upon miracle, healing upon healing, and yet they ask: "How can we get bread in the desert?"

Does Jesus answer their question? No. Instead, He asks the disciples another. "How many loaves have you?" [Mk 10:5]This, brothers and sisters, is a moment of grace and the loaves are its image. Grace is present because Jesus is present. It flows outward from Him to all who are open to receive it. But grace can never be a private possession. It must be passed on, flow from one to another.

Yes, how many loaves do you disciples have? How much faith do you have? Do you have enough? Are you instruments of grace?

"Seven," is their one-word reply. Does it point to the Spirit's seven gifts they will receive at Pentecost when the full meaning of their discipleship is revealed? Perhaps so.

So Jesus takes the loaves, but He takes nothing without thanking the Father. He gives thanks for the disciples' bread, bread meant for them and for Him, but now destined for thousands.

He breaks the bread, as He will break Himself in the Eucharist, and hands the bread to His disciples. The disciples distribute the bread; doing the miraculous, as the Bread received from the Church carries His miraculous Presence into the world.

Here we see the Church in the process of becoming, for the Bread it is given, the Eucharist - it, too, is blessed, broken, and multiplied. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, offers Himself, but His disciples carry Him into the world.

Jesus also blesses a few small fish so the people can eat an ordinary meal, the same kind of meal the disciples would eat with the Lord. This meal, this everyday experience, becomes for the people an extraordinary, miraculous experience.

Were those few small fish a sign, a reminder that Simon Peter and the others must soon abandon their boats, their nets, their lives and become fishers of men? Did the disciples learn this day that when they give all that they have - even if it's only seven loaves and a few fish - God will multiply it a thousand fold?

And what about you and me?

Can we abandon everything in our lives that is keeping us from true discipleship?

Can we, too, hand the loaves and fish of our lives to the Lord and let Him bless, break and multiply them - so we can carry Him into the world?

Will you let God work His miracles in the everyday ordinariness of your life, so you can be an instrument of His grace?

We are all called, dear friends.

Lord, teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to labor and seek no reward save that of knowing we do your holy will.


We included meditation questions for each talk, including the morning Mass homily, in our reflection booklet. I gave the participants a few moments to meditate on the questions after each talk. The questions that follow were intended for meditation after the morning homily:

Meditation Questions -- the Call to Discipleship.
  • What are some of the obstacles you have encountered, or are now encountering, as you strive to respond to Jesus' call to discipleship?
  • How can knowing you are "loved into existence" affect your life and how you consider and treat yourself and others?
  • Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. What does this mean to you? How is this manifested in your life?

Videos of the three talks follow:

1. The Call to Abandonment.

"...the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" [John 4:14].

In her desire for new life, for salvation, the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with hope, a hope she feels called to share. Driven by this hope she reaches out and shares the Good News. Like Mary, who carries the unborn Jesus, the Word, to Judea, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist, carrying the Word to others.

Meditation Questions -- Disciple and Evangelist: a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
  • Describe a situation when you have experienced being refreshed by the Word of God.
  • God calls everyone to discipleship. Through those who respond He extends that call to others. How can you better respond to this call to evangelize?
  • What aspect of your life must you abandon and leave behind as you follow the path to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • What does it mean to be a "God-bearer" in today's world?
2. The Call to Follow.

"Go your way; your faith has saved you...he...followed Jesus on the way" [Mk 10:52].

Faith saves, but true faith is a living faith, one that always brings forth new life, one that demands a response. Bartimaeus turns from his own way, leaving his old life behind, and follows Jesus on "The Way."

Meditation Questions -- Respond in faith: Your faith has saved you.
  • Have you ever had a surprising encounter with Jesus, an encounter in which you recognized His presence in your life? Describe it. What was your response? Share this with another.
  • What fears might keep you and others you know from following the path to discipleship?
  • People are often like the disciples who want to keep others from Jesus. Have you ever encountered this? Have you ever done this? What is the root of this lack of trust on their part and ours?
3. The Call to Serve Without Compromise.

"...her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" [Lk 7:47].

We turn to Luke's Gospel and Jesus' encounter with the sinful woman who washed His feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Yes, true repentance brings forgiveness, God's gift to those who turn to Him in recognition of their sins. In an act of thanksgiving, overwhelmed by this gift, ultimately the gift of salvation, she is filled with a joy that can only be expressed in her love for the Giver. She responds in love, ignoring the world and its threats, and showers her love on the divine Word.

Meditation Questions -- Response in love: she kissed and anointed His feet.
  • Can love ever be wasteful? Can we love too much?
  • What is Jesus' attitude toward the sinner? Can you offer some other Gospel examples? How can we follow Him?
  • What does the sinful woman in thus passage teach us as we respond to the call to discipleship?

Homily: Monday 5th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 8:1-7,9-13; Ps 132; Mk 6:53-56

Solomon had fulfilled the hope of his father, David, and built a magnificent Temple that would stand for 400 years until the Babylonians destroyed it in 587 B.C. and carried God's people into exile. But then God delivered Israel from exile, and returning to Jerusalem they built a new Temple, which also stood for centuries until it was replaced by Herod's structure. It too was destroyed, but this time by the Romans.

Solomon Dedicating the Temple
But what a day that must have been in Jerusalem when that first Temple was consecrated, the culmination of long journey. The Lord God had freed His people from Egyptian slavery, and formed them into a holy nation as they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. He led them into the land He had promised from the time of Abraham, but what a struggle it had been.

Is it any wonder that "All the people of Israel assembled before King Solomon" [1 Kgs 8:2] to celebrate and offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord God. The Ark of the Covenant was carried into the Temple and placed in the Holy of Holies where God made His Presence known. In the words of our psalm:
"Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might" [Ps 132:8]
 And the Presence of God filled the Temple, veiled by a dark cloud.

Yes, it was an awesome day, but a day that would have shocked us and our modern sensibilities. For few today could have stomached the noise, the sights, and the smells of the ritual slaughter and holocaust, the burning of thousands of sheep and oxen on the altar of sacrifice.

For us religion has become almost entirely spiritual; but the ancient Jew lived much closer to the messy realities of birth, life, and death, much closer to the reality of God's Creation. And on that altar, the priests sacrificed the best the people had, the fruit of their labor, the work of human hands. These sacrifices were offered for thanksgiving, for atonement of national and personal sin and sacrilege, for restitution, for the ransom of a newborn, for healing, for peace.

Like the Temple, the lives of the people were filled with God's Presence; and it is God's Presence that calls to mind their sins, their brokenness, and their need for healing. But God's presence in Solomon's Temple was a mere foreshadowing of His Presence in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In the Person of Jesus, God's Presence is always a healing Presence, just as it was at Gennesaret as described by Mark in our Gospel passage.
Jesus Healing in Gennesaret
Like the people in Jerusalem a thousand years before, the people of Gennesaret could hardly contain themselves. How did Mark put it? They "scurried about the surrounding country" [Mk 6:55] to bring the sick to Jesus, wherever He was. Can you picture that? Dozens of people, perhaps hundreds, carrying the sick and disabled, leading the blind and the deaf, the roads and footpaths filled with those in need of healing.
They laid the sick in the marketplace
Wherever he went - every town, every little village - He found the sick laid out in the town square, just waiting for His healing Presence - a word, a touch. Indeed, Mark tells us that a mere touch of his clothing was enough to bring healing. Their faith, their trust in Jesus' healing Presence was all it took. That and the infectious faith of those who brought them to Jesus.

St. Agatha, Virgin Martyr
It is the same deep faith we encounter in the third-century virgin martyr, St. Agatha, whose memorial we celebrate today. In fact, tradition tells us that St. Peter appeared to Agatha while she was imprisoned, and healed the wounds resulting from the torture she had already suffered. How fitting, for Peter knew all about healing since he had witnessed so many during Jesus' ministry.

But how about us? How about you and me? Do we have that depth of faith?

Are our hearts filled with joy because of the Real Presence of our Lord, Jesus Christ? He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of His Presence when He promised "I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:20]. Christ's Eucharistic Presence is a unique Presence, a Presence of Communion in which He becomes one with us, as we become one with each other.

And we must always remember that the Eucharist is a healing Presence, just like Jesus' Presence in the towns of Galilee.
Do you come here today with the assurance that God will heal you in ways you can never imagine?

Do you "scurry about" looking for others in need of healing, telling them about Jesus' Eucharistic Presence, His healing Presence?

I don't know about you, but I think it's time I did some scurrying.